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Policy Guides for External Speakers

Freedom of thought and inquiry lie at the core of a public university. The University of Illinois System has adopted a steadfast commitment to free of expression, as outlined in our Guiding Principles.

An unyielding allegiance to freedom of speech – even controversial, contentious, and unpopular speech – is indispensable to developing the analytical and communication skills of our students and empowering all members of our university communities to be active and informed citizens.

Based on this commitment, the University of Illinois System should not shield members of our communities from outside ideas because some find those ideas unwise or offensive. 

A fundamental principle of free speech is that a public institution’s ability to regulate speech depends in part on where that speech is occurring, which is referred to as the “forum.”  The Supreme Court and federal appellate courts recognize different forums, including:  a) traditional public forums, such as streets and sidewalks; b) non-public forums, such as classrooms and offices; c) designated public forums, such as quadrangles, arenas and auditoriums where the public university has affirmatively identified as a space to operate like a traditional public forum; and d) limited public forums, such as areas open only for student activities for certain purposes.  In carrying out their educational and other missions, public universities may impose some limitations upon speech and expression, including reasonable time, place and manner restrictions.    

The Board of Trustees has received these policy guides, and supports the President’s implementation of them.

System-wide Policy Guides

  • Each university should map the campus environment for free-expression purposes by conducting an analysis and classification of their physical environment into the various types of forums.  This analysis should take into account past practices. 
  • Each university should establish criteria to be used in considering requests for university resources for external speakers.  Consistent with constitutionally protected rights of free expression and speech, aversion to a speaker’s viewpoint cannot be a criterion for decision making. 
  • Each university should adopt a decision-making process to be used when university resources (e.g., space, security) are requested for an external speaker event.  The process should clarify the organizational level at which such decisions are made as well as establish the criteria for how university resources are to be allocated.
  • In cases where safety of the university community is a concern, the universities should have a campus response team comprised of appropriate staff that can assess risks and make recommendations about safety procedures to be implemented for any proposed or scheduled external speaker event. 
  • Each university should have policies governing the use of its campus facilities for external speakers, and policies that address whether and when such events may be open to others who are not members of the university community.  
  • Each university should have policies about how the anticipated costs of external speaker events will be covered, including costs associated with security or insurance.
  • External speaker events should not be canceled because of political pressure or on account of a perception that an event may be controversial.
  • Members of the university community have a right to express opposition to an external speaker, subject to reasonable time, manner, and place restrictions.  Members of the university community can express such opposition near the venue of the speaker event, or can organize alternative events elsewhere on campus.  Authorized attendees of the external speaker event may express opposition at the event itself, provided they do not unreasonably obstruct or otherwise interfere with the speaker’s communication.   Any employee who wishes to protest may do so on non-work time, unless it is a university approved event, and may do so in accordance with any and all applicable employee policies, rules and regulations. 
  • Each university should have a Demonstration Response Plan that provides general guidance to the campus community concerning responses to demonstrations and protests, and that is consistent with shared values regarding the First Amendment as well as campus safety.
  • Universities should not agree to conditions imposed by external speakers that are inconsistent with freedom-of-expression values or other core aspects of the university’s mission.
  • Each university should have a plan to educate its students, staff and faculty on the value of permitting potentially divisive speech on campus, and on the appropriate ways to respond to speech with which one might disagree.

These policy guides should be read and interpreted in a manner that is mindful of relevant state and federal judicial decisions.